I majored in English. I have a pretty good job, not particularly related to that degree, not a job that carries any particular prestige, but that contributes roughly half the household income needed to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in an expensive city that I love. I’m a reader and a writer but I’ll never get paid a dime for it and I have the freedom to love it in a completely pure and non-cynical way. I love books in a way that’s inseparable from loving my own existence. I love to write because I don’t know any other way to capture the reality of that existence. I have one big colossal failure in my life that has affected me deeply and caused me a lot of grief and I’m so grateful that that failure has nothing to do with writing. I used to feel like a disappointment, or even a coward, because there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about me and my place in the world compared to the “potential” I was once assured I had. But now I (most of the time) feel incredibly fortunate. The thing you love can just be the thing you love, especially for those of us who are not geniuses. Just let it belong to you and being you pleasure.

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Dec 30, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

It's rare a piece had resonated with me quite as much as this. It took nearly 11 years of scraping by paycheck to paycheck, flat broke in NYC, and getting fired from the YouTube content farm of a major legacy publisher most people only dream of working for before I could finally admit majoring in English lit was a mistake. Fuck them and fuck the whole system. You can just walk away and do something else with your life. The workplace will be less toxic and you'll get paid better too.

I really only regret not pulling the plug sooner. It's hard to admit you royally fucked up and threw a decade of your short life in the trash with absolutely nothing to show for it, but ignoring it won't make it go away.

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There is still a market for the written word and I can't see that changing. It may shrink, but I believe it will always be there. Substack has been a great innovation and I hope it sticks around. I am a libertarian-ish conservative. I work in banking. I subscribe to a good 20 different writers of various content. Only about 8 of those are paid for and 5 are people considered, to themselves, at least, to be of the left (this includes your material).

I can get plenty of "bubble" material on the right for free. I don't need to pay for it. If I wanted the same quality of hot-takes and the like from the left to get enraged over I can just mosey over to CNN, MSNBC or some other low quality media outlet for that. Instead, I prefer to pay for the thoughts of those who have both, for the most part, laid out their left of center bona fides and also been honest enough to call out the dishonesty of the mainstream press over the last few years. I read you and others (Greenwald, Taibbi, etc.) because you make me THINK. You force me to engage in your ideas in my own head and challenge my own beliefs. In some cases it strengthens my arguments. In some cases it softens my positions. In some, I change my mind (your piece on student loan forgiveness is a case in point).

Anyway, I'm hoping that the enthusiasm I have seen here for more fulsome reading and opportunity for engagement is a sign that all is not lost in the realm of ideas and current events communicated through the written word.

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As someone who is still trying to sell a book, my advice for every writer is to be a WRITER, which is to say someone who doesn't care about anything other than writing books that you yourself would want to read and who is relatively indifferent to material luxury and prestige.

Get a job that provides enough to support a dignified lifestyle, one in which the carburetor breaking is not an existential crisis. Make sure that job allows enough time to write what you want to write.

Fame has never been emptier and more meaningless, and literary fame has never been more shallow. Write a book you yourself would want to read and will attract the attention of interesting people who don't know who you are. I work temp jobs. I cater. I get part-time teaching gigs. It's a precarious life, but once I let go and focussed all my attention on my passion, I've never been happier.

Poets figured this out a long time ago.

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If you want data on public library fiction circulation which is one measure of reading let me know.

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Just had a flashback to Stuff White People Like. Back when the humor in white people criticizing other white people could come in a form like that... just deadpan and detailed descriptions of unusual behaviors that educated whites take for granted as "normal" in their friends, or in themselves.

How far white people criticizing other white people has declined by now... you had to sit down and actually intend to read a SWPL post, you couldn't just glance at it and see a trigger word and get the entire content of the post in 5 seconds. And SWPL posts actually used writing, as in, you know, descriptions of thoughts and actions in a sequence. It didn't just wink and nod at the audience and encourage us to go "Ah, you said a word that is clearly designed to be relatable to someone like me."

Anyway, even the weird internet niche of white people criticizing white people for being white people used to be so much better.

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A great piece as always , getting to the heart of the matter. As someone who works in a major publication - though in film not the written word - it rings v true unfortunately. Very simply, the nature of the internet devalues everything it touches - nothing can be distinctive or special or memorable or treasured. Within the hyper, crazed content farm of the contemporary internet - there is a constant stream of stuff with no sense of definition, identity or place. For all their problems, old respected publications - and the gravitas they had - gave structure , a real sense of authority in the way we see the world. Now that the internet has 'flattened everything' - fueled by the idea that structure is inheritantly unjust, old fashioned or racist - we are all at sea, drowning in a world of incessant content, unsure of what is important - and what is not. That breakdown is more than just journalistic - it feels like Western society has lost its sense of destiny, cohesion and belief in itself.

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"I want every last one of them to have a living wage, health insurance, paid leave, a union, and the opportunity for advancement."

You keep saying these things. Why? Why do you want, say, Sarah Hagi to have all those things for doing something that she finds fun, but that she isn't any good at and no one wants? Why shouldn't she teaching high school, or cleaning toilets, or doing any other of the myriad tasks that actually need doing in order to get those things? Why don't the high school teachers and the janitors get all those things for sitting around and bulshitting, like Sarah Hagi does? And if they did, why would anyone bother teaching high school or cleaning toilets?

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It is so damn hard to make money writing. There are too many people willing to produce content basically for free (or very little) and consumers expect content to be free.

You have to be really good + famous to charge for writing when there’s so much out there for free.

Even the fiction market is fucked because of Kindle Unlimited, which is like Spotify for books. Readers expect books to be free with their $10/month subscription, or dirt cheap on regular kindle ($2.99). And there are loads of authors self-publishing at those prices.

Online publishing means that free and cheap content will always be plentiful. For most of us, writing will never be profitable again.

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I tend to agree with the take that neither culture nor politics have meaningfully advanced after about 2009, only technology. So rather than “creating content,” we’re simply repackaging and cannibalizing the same material over and over, in ever more bite-sized and efficiently targeted chunks, with dramatically diminishing returns. The internet’s tendency to flatten everything towards a vast equilibrium seems to have largely overwhelmed its ability to inspire, at least in my particular milieu.

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I want to say a word about Joan Didion. I was never a devoted reader and only have heard second hand the back lash as described here by FdB. But if your spouse drops dead of a heart attack w/o warning Didion's --The Year of Magical Thinking-- is an antidote to most of the reading available on the death of a long-time partner.

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As someone who was a part of what was both affectionately and pejoratively called "indie lit" for almost a decade, it's been both interesting and a massive bummer to see the same thing happen in small independent publishers of fiction. If anyone wants to know more about this, I have a lot to say about it!

But I do remember distinctly how small presses that felt essential began to collapse inward because the single person who was doing everything by themselves (editing, layout, publishing, logistics, royalties, etc) folded because after 6 years of making less than 20k per year publishing novels (and, honestly, most of these people really did this as a labor of love, making less than probably a thousand dollars per year doing it), they just gave up on this second job that never paid them in anything but facebook likes and twitter follows.

The ones that remained either got enormously lucky or had a lot of independent money (Maybe no one remembers Scott McClanahan anymore, but he was a rockstar in the small press world, and he may not have even been known at all had eccentric millionaire Giancarlo DiTrapano not enjoyed being publishing books most people wouldn't). But part of the collapse was that most of the darlings of the small press world who talked endlessly about the online writing community jumped ship to traditional publishing the moment they had a chance (which was definitely the right career decision for people like Roxane Gay, who would maybe still be writing traumatic short stories about rape and awkward romance had her nonfiction not hit so well with readers).

But, for me, the moment it began to die was when I noticed how most of the writers I knew didn't really write or read anymore. They mostly became aspiring political pundits.

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jfc that takedown of nuGawker. Freddie, remind me never to get on your bad side.

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as always Freddie, you rock but more importantly you tell the truth about this profession we are in. I learned decades ago, the hard way, that the magazine market was overloaded, that the pay was terrible, that the competition was fierce, and that what was being bought was the kind of stuff I would be embarrassed to write anyway. I did finally learn how to make a good living as a writer (it took me ten years to make a comfortable living), like Freddie I found certain truths to be inescapable.

1) There are niches out there that no one is tapping (I know of many, i can't help but keep seeing them considering the tripe that is being published). I found one and wrote the hell out of it, i still do. 2) I decided to make a living being a full time writer and I have. it takes hard work, continual writing in the niche, being a decent wordsmith (contrary to what is commonly said, people do like writing outside the NY MFA style which in fact most people hate), having a long term plan, treating it like a business (being a mercenary as freddie says), and having luck. 3) You HAVE to want it, to have writing in your blood, to love the art, to feel honored to be part of the craft and the lineage. you have to respect the word, to tell the truth no matter who you offend, for the truth is that when you get into an untapped niche you are saying out loud that the emperor has no clothes, telling secrets that elites do not want told. And every untapped niche is untapped precisely because no one will look at it with clear eyes and see the lies and hypocrisy within that area of human culture or life. The field is open to any who will do it.

4) the way is long, it is not easy, and it takes time. The thing is, all that focus and work and dedication and loyalty to the truth and the craft will in the end produce luck simply because you are ready for it to happen. I have had it twice and it made my career possible. One, a chance meeting with a publisher at a conference looking for the writers in the niche I had been developing, secondly, the kindness of a major force in my area who asked me to teach (after i asked her if i could) at one of her conferences. 5) While blogs came along after my time, the place i found to write is the pulp magazine market of our time, small print publishers (by this i mean the ones who do anywhere from 20 to 100 books per year). They are the place that new writers can develop their craft, learn the ropes, and get things into print.

Writing a book a year for 20 years and thus becoming a major voice in an untapped niche does work. But you have to love the craft, you have to love words, you have to read endlessly, and you have to defy the powerful and speak for the voiceless. Which freddie does, over and over again. all of these things.

There is room out here but it lies in places that neither the literati nor the illiterati go. When i see everybody going in one direction, saying that all must go that way, I immediately set out cross country to see what i can find. One thing I have learned, wherever the mass humanity is going is not where any person's true chance of greatness lies.

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Dec 30, 2021·edited Dec 30, 2021

I read Galloway sometimes for the same reason I read astral codex ten: they both fucked over the shitrag NYT and caused them appreciable harm.

Galloway is an insufferable loser, however. He pays lip service to having wasted his life chasing power and money but shows absolutely no other signs of having learned or changed from that experience. He also got so butthurt about the unvaccinated that he called for removing their access to checking accounts and basically all other forms of access to money. Dude's a massive tool.

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Go off bro lol. This was a scathing indictment of a doomed industry and honestly it probably deserves a lot more attention from society as a whole if we ever want to strive for better media consumption. I cannot stress enough how bad peoples informational diets are, getting your news from gawker or vox, even blindly believing everything the NYTs prints will make you fairly misinformed. It’s the Information diet equivalent of eating Doritos and drinking big gulps and calling it a balanced meal.

Maybe the tech bros are right in that Web 3.0 could yield better solutions for journalism, all I can do is hope. Thankfully for now we have people like you to help ease the painful transition. We’re in for a rough ride.

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